by James Litston, The Telegraph, June 11, 2019
With the legendary Delta Queen decommissioned for the foreseeable future, just two cruise lines – American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines – continue to ply the Mississippi. Here's how to discover the delights of this mighty river in style.
Queen of the river
As the largest riverboat in the world, American Queen is the go-to vessel for cruising Old Man River and its tributaries. Modelled on a traditional steamboat propelled by a classic paddlewheel, the 436-passenger ship features broad, shaded decks and interiors rich in filigree, fretwork and antique furniture. Luxury coaches follow the ship from port to port and provide complimentary excursions to the Mississippi's many points of interest.
Book it: Bon Voyage offers a 7-night cruise from Memphis to New Orleans (veranda stateroom) from £3,995pp, including flights, transfers, one night's pre-cruise and two nights' post-cruise hotel accommodation, and a walking tour in New Orleans (bon-voyage.co.uk).
American Queen's sister ship, American Duchess, is newer, smaller (with just 166 guests) and has a more contemporary styling, making it the Mississippi's most luxurious all-suite paddlewheeler. Better still, the vessel will offer all-inclusive accommodation (including drinks) from 2020, when it will also be able to dock right in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee: a city whose musical pedigree has seen it nicknamed "the home of country music".
Book it: Purely America offers a 7-night cruise from Nashville to Memphis (interior suite) from £2,999pp, including flights, transfers and one night's hotel accommodation (with breakfast) both pre- and post-cruise (purelysouthernusa.co.uk).
Joining the fleet in Spring 2020 is American Countess, a more affordable riverboat option accommodating 245 guests. The ship will offer itineraries on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, including themed voyages and even an epic, 14-night Mighty Mississippi cruise. Although it will feature fewer inclusions than its fleet-mates, passengers can enjoy complimentary shore excursions and all drinks served with meals, as well as comfortable lounges, classical décor and Broadway-style showboat entertainment.
Book it: Light Blue Travel offers the 14-night Mighty Mississippi cruise from Minneapolis to New Orleans from £5,675pp, including flights, transfers and one night's hotel accommodation pre-cruise (lightbluetravel.co.uk).
The other force on the Mississippi is American Cruise Lines, which operates a three-strong mixed fleet of paddlewheel and modern riverboats (with a fourth vessel launching in 2020). These are the most environmentally-friendly riverboats in America, with a host of new technologies to keep emissions to a minimum. Staterooms are among the largest in the industry and come with private balconies for watching the river go by.
Book it: Fred River Cruises offers a 7-night cruise from Memphis to New Orleans on paddlewheeler America from £4,699pp, including flights, two nights' pre-and post-cruise accommodation and a tour of Elvis Presley's Graceland (fredrivercruises.co.uk).
While Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans are the big draw-cards of a Lower Mississippi itinerary, the upper portion of the river has its own unique appeal. Historic prairie towns such as Dubuque, Iowa and Red Wing, Minnesota add local charm to bigger hitters like St Paul or St Louis – the gateway to the West. This part of the river resonates particularly with literature lovers: some of Mark Twain's most popular works were set here.
Book it: Blue Water Holidays offers a 7-night Upper Mississippi cruise on American Cruise Lines' Queen of the Mississippi from £3,995pp, including flights, transfers and one night's pre-cruise accommodation (cruisingholidays.co.uk).
Rolling on the river
Both cruise lines plying the Mississippi operate regular sailings with particular themes. Be it a Civil War special, Mark Twain's Mississippi or a celebration of music or bourbon whiskey, these trips offer additional insight into the Deep South's heritage. Perhaps the most colourful option is a cruise that coordinates with the Mardi Gras parades – highlight of the legendary knees-up for which New Orleans is famed.
Book it: Trailfinders offers a 7-night American Queen cruise from New Orleans to Memphis from £3,599pp, including flights, transfers, accommodation in New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville (7 nights total) and 2 days' car rental departing February 22, 2020 (trailfinders.com).
Cooler nights and festive lights
Mulled wine, seasonal jingles and lots of twinkling lights set the scene for American Cruise Lines' special ‘Spirit of the Season’ departures, which operate from late November into the New Year. With the ship decked out in festive décor and traditional meals served with all the trimmings, there's no better way to experience the river than when it's all dressed up for the holidays.
Book it: America As You Like It offers a 7-night ‘Spirit of the Season' cruise from £4,050pp, including flights and one night's pre-cruise accommodation in Memphis, departing November 22 and 29, 2019 and December 27, 2019 (americaasyoulikeit.com).
For those who prefer to travel in the comfort and company of a group, escorted tours are an unbeatable way in which to discover the river. Titan's Journey on the Mighty Mississippicombines a Lower Mississippi cruise with city-break stays in the belles of the Deep South – Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans – for ample opportunity to uncover their musical heritage and sultry seduction. Departures are available in December 2019 and April, September and November 2020.
Book it: Titan Travel offers a 7-night cruise on American Queen from £5,589pp including flights, 7 nights' hotel accommodation, transfers, various sightseeing tours, guide and home pick-up service (titantravel.co.uk).